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Strong Finish

I have reached the fourth quarter of life and I am ready for a strong finish. Quarters are 20 years long and I am hopeful for a long overtime period. So far the game has progressed as I might have expected. The first quarter I grew up,

the second I explored what I wanted to do,

the third I paid my dues

Professional Greg

Professional Greg

and now on to the fourth I hope to realize my dreams.

It sounds pretty straight forward but along the way you are alerted to those who lose their way or don’t get to finish. It is now as I enter the fourth quarter that I find the greatest reward which is knowing what I want to do. Sounds simple, we work all these years so that you can retire to pursue our life’s passion. The problem though is that many forget to discover what that passion is and even then many don’t ever truly pursue it.

It could be that I have oversimplified the game plan, yes it is a long and hard and the coach is really important. I have been blessed with a great team with a loving wife of 40 years and 3 great children. Many think they know the outcome by the fourth quarter and just accept it, our tired bodies might agree but there is plenty of inspiration to draw from. Your team needs you, pushing a little harder brings incredible rewards, victory is in your grasp. So how will I finish the game.

At the end of the third quarter I quit my job and prepared for the final quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Fourth Quarter

A year of serious backpacking and career diversification has set me up for a strong finish. My body is aging but it still has a lot of great plays left in it. Again, what I cherish the most is that I know what I want to do. I want to score as many points as I can. I want more memories to draw from on my future sick-bed. For many this metaphor translates to chasing financial security. Sure, I have worried about that but I think all is well. I am not worried about money because I know that I can live within my means. No debt, enough retirement income, but the peace comes from the wisdom gained in realizing that your quality of life is not tied to materials.

In six months I will walk away from a fairly lucrative employment situation and as I contemplate extending those opportunities, I think about the value of rewards that await. The opportunity to experience the wilderness beauty of our shrinking earth is my ultimate reward. Dreams of exploring the Rockies, the Sierras. the Cascades, Canada and Alaska excite my soul. Maybe even Scandinavia, the Alps or the mountains of Peru will be attainable. You cannot earn that reward, you must live it. I am so looking forward to a Strong Finish.

Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

Stevens Pass Ski Area

Stevens Pass Ski Area

I backpacked the Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, PCT Washington Segment J from Aug. 8-16, 2015. It is 71 miles and over 18,000 vertical. This trip on the heals of my Spider Gap Buck Creek loop was challenging in many ways, most of which was related to heat, lack of water, lots of vertical and smokey conditions. Overall though it is a very dramatic PCT segment complete with very rugged and beautiful terrain.

Campsite in Berries

Campsite in Berries

Starting off at the Stevens Pass Ski area was kind of cool thinking about how I might ski those runs that I was hiking. I was also treated to an abundance of huckleberry and blueberries for the first couple of days.

Mig Lake

Mig Lake

My second day I had my sights set for a campsite on top of a mountain but along the way I passed many lakes of which I think the most beautiful was Mig Lake.

Trap Lake

Trap Lake

At my mountain top campsite at PCT 2450 which was after a typical 3000 ft vertical climb day I had Trap Lake behind me and a beautiful sunset waiting ahead of me. One of the best campsites I have chosen.

Sunset from Campsite

Sunset from Mountain Top Campsite

The following day I planned on camping at Deception Lake, however,

Jets over the Wilderness

Jets over the Wilderness

I was not that impressed with the options and I knew it would end up being crowed with the many through hikers now hitting this part of Washington. I pressed on and found a great campsite just south of Deception Creek at PCT 2442. The photo showing the jet exhaust trail represents the many jets that you hear flying over this area out of Seattle. You never see the military jets which fly lower and louder.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

The next day I climbed past the Cathedral Rock area but overall I took it easy and ended up at Deep Lake which offered a great site for a swim. Deep Lake still had water flow but it was low and the lake was warming up.

Deep Lake

Deep Lake

I knew that I had a tough high vertical day coming up so I also took it a bit easy the following day in preparation to climb over Escondido Pass. I knew that water was going to be an issue and when I realized that my Camelbak bladder had leaked I was a bit concerned.

Smoke Over Lake Waptus

Smoke Over Lake Waptus

I did find a trickle of a stream where I filled up a Nalgene liter but I would need more. This was a long and exposed segment that turned out to be on one of the hottest days along with a lot of smoke sneaking into the area from the Washington forest fires.

Escondido Pass

Escondido Pass

There are a couple of dead lakes on top but who wants to drink warm water. It turned out that I did not have enough water or energy which made for a very difficult day. Boy was I happy when I finally got to a cool stream over near Lemah Meadows. I setup camp as it was getting dark and I collapsed for a night’s sleep to recharge. I did experience an interesting event that night as I believe a large buck must have been startled by my tent which was fairly near the trail. This was at 1:30 am and this buck sounded like he raised up and pounded his hooves 3 times right next to my tent. Nothing I could do but just lay there. Or maybe it was just a very real dream.

I took it easy the next day in preparation for more climbing.

Weather Changing

Weather Changing

My plan was to camp near the Park Lakes area which turned out to be as far as I could get before the rain set in.

Campsite during Storm

Campsite during Storm

In all of my backpacking I have been extremely fortunate with respect to weather, rarely have I endured a serious rain. Well that all changed with a night of wind and rain which was sorely needed by the draught stricken mountains. I did choose a good campsite next to a lake on top of ground shrubs which made for good drainage for the night long rain. The video gives you an idea of how pleasant the night long rain was.

Park Lakes Area

Park Lakes Area

The following day turned out to be a lot tougher then I expected, lots of up and downs, but the misty weather made for excellent hiking conditions.

Above Alaska Lake

Above Alaska Lake

This is very scenic terrain and doing it in the clouds made for a unique day. Again my day stretched to the end of my energy just in time to make camp at Ridge Lake, just before it started raining again.

Hiking in the Clouds

Hiking in the Clouds

Not so bad, just persistent. But this was my last night on the PCT since Snoqualmie Pass was over the next pass. Of course the sun came out just as I got on the trail. It would have been nice to have had the sun to dry some things out before heading out.

After the Storms

After the Storms

However, the rain brought crystal clear air for some of the most beautiful terrain left on the segment. This is a very popular day hike segment for the Seattle folks so I passed hundreds of them as I headed down to Snoqualmie Pass.

Then you see Mt. Rainier and you can get cell service. This all translated into a wonderful finish to this PCT segment. After getting my resupply at the Chevron Station and showering I enjoyed a few craft beers from the Dru Bru Brewery.

Fires Force Reroute of My PCT Backpacking

Heading South from Stevens Pass

Heading South from Stevens Pass

The Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop backpacking trip was awesome.

The forest fires around Glacier Peak increased in number and size to prevent me from backpacking from Stevens Pass to Stehekim, so I have decided to go south from Stevens Pass instead. Starting Saturday August 8th I will head south from Stevens Pass to resupply at Snoqualmie Pass on I90. I will then go on to White Pass for a total of

I will provide trip report blog post when I return at the end of August.

The Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie segment was awesome and challenging. Lot’s of vertical plus some heat and rain. The view of Mt. Rainier was a welcome on a beautiful Sunday.

Mt. Rainier heading into Snoqualmie Pass

Mt. Rainier heading into Snoqualmie Pass

August Backpacking Schedule

My backpacking schedule for August has been confirmed. August 1-7 I am doing Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop near Glacier Peak just Southeast of the PCT providing a great 44 mile loop rated difficult. I will do the loop with friends; Bob and Jeff. Backpacker GregThen I will get a ride over to Bellingham, WA, to visit friend John to resupply and prepare for my final solo PCT segment.

August 8th or 9th I will be dropped off at the PCT on Stevens Pass where I will head north to Manning Park Canada, about 200 miles. I will resupply in Stehekin, WA, which is a resort lodge at the North end of Lake Chelan. There are no communications (Phone, Internet) in Stehekin, so I believe I will be off the grid until I get to Canada. I’ll send a post card from Stehekin to let folks know my progress.

Dusk Proposal Rock

Dusk Proposal Rock

I should get back home by the end of August so that I can begin work with Willamette View. So what a great August it should be, about 250 miles of the most beautiful wilderness in America. Can’t wait to be on the trail again.

I will be mentally preparing for this adventure next week on the coast in Neskowin.

Timberline to Cascade Locks

My second Oregon PCT segment was excellent, the weather was what you would expect and the scenery was as good as it gets.

Abby

Abby

Unfortunately when it ended and I returned to the cellular world at the Eagle Creek Trailhead I found out that my beloved old backpacking canine companion, Abby, had died the night before. It was good that I had another 2.5 miles before I got to Cascade Locks, I needed the time to shed tears and reflect on our years together. I am so glad that we got to travel back to Oregon together. Australian Shepherds are incredible dogs and Abby was one of the best.

Leaving TimberlineBack to the Hood to Gorge review. My wife and I spent the night before I departed at Timberline Lodge. Weather was perfect as were the IPAs we consumed in the adirondack chairs observing Mt. Hood. We could see Mt. Jefferson to the South initially but the view faded away into a smoky haze from the fires in southern Oregon.

Early Views of Hood

Early Views of Hood

I departed on July 9th in beautiful weather with no deadlines, just a destination. The PCT from Timberline takes you into the Paradise Park area which is all about majestic views of Mt. Hood. You feel very small underneath the mountain. An afternoon thunder storm brought needed moisture but also motivated me to seek a campsite. A heavy fog moved in which essentially equated to rain all night long. Paradise ParkThe following day offered more amazing Paradise Park views. This is fairly rugged trail that skirts the many snow melt streams from Hood. The main goal was to have a relaxing lunch at Ramona Falls, however, crossing the headwaters of the Sandy river to get there always presents a challenge.

Sandy Crossing

Sandy Crossing

So when I came out of the forest to greet the Sandy it was obvious that I was not crossing that high volume stream at this PCT designated trail point. When looking for a crossing you head upstream and look for perfectly positioned rocks or hopefully a log assisted crossing.

Mt. Hood from Sandy

Mt. Hood from Sandy

I found the log/stick crossing that had been thrown together, and although it was a bit scary it turned out to be more then adequate. The reward for the challenging stream crossing is a glorious view of Mt. Hood.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

Then on to the ultimate reward of Ramona Falls and I was not disappointed. The sunlight through the trees creates unique highlights of this cascading waterfall.

I needed to put in a few more miles so taking the PCT Ramona Falls alternate trail to the Muddy Fork Junction was a perfect climax to my second day. Endurance CrossingHowever, crossing fast flowing stream on a couple of logs was interesting. But more interesting to watch were a couple of endurance runners cross the stream on foot.

The next day, Saturday, was a bit dreary weather wise, but that was OK since it kept down the day hiker population. It was a tough day for distance and vertical, 10 miles of 3000 ft up and about 1500 down. When I passed Lolo Pass I was thinking about putting a long sleeve shirt on which made me wonder about the 4 teenagers who were heading up to Bald Mtn. in shorts and tank tops.

Throne to Hood

Mt. Hood and Lost Lake from Buck Peak

Sunday ushered in a lifting fog which made for an eerie beautiful trail. The body felt good as I was knocking off more vertical before the inevitable drop. I had passed Devil’s Pulpit and Preachers Peak so I was in the mood for a wilderness church setting. About 10:00 am I noticed a side trail which lead to Buck Peak. The trail was OK but narrow and overgrown enough to mean that condensation from the vegetation was going to be soaking. But I sensed its call and a half mile up I was rewarded with His majestic throne’s view of Mt. Hood and Lost Lake. The church service was excellent.

Ripe Huckelberries

Ripe Huckelberries

The trail began the inevitable elevation decline to the gorge and with it came an abundance of ripe berries. I had a wonderful afternoon taking my time enjoying the spectacular view of the Eagle Creek canyon and eating plenty of ripe Huckleberries. After arriving at the Indian Springs abandoned campground I opted to continue on another 3 miles to Wahtum Lake. Definitely the right call as the lake campsite was beautiful and the trail there and then on to rejoin the Eagle Creek alternate PCT trail was a more gradual vertical decline complete with beautiful lush waterfall strewn scenery. Oh yes, and plenty of Thimbleberries, a tasty relative of the raspberry.

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

I knew I was in for a treat from the Eagle Creek canyon trail but little did I know how amazing it would be. My daughter and I hiked up this trail about 10 years ago but stopped short of the really great landmarks.  Tunnel CloseSo the ultimate goal is Tunnel Falls, which totally lives up to the hype. Actually the entire Eagle Creek Trail is awesome with many serious waterfalls, good swimming holes, precarious cliff carved trail and great campsites. But Tunnel Falls, Wow.

I knew that my trip would end the next day so I kept looking for the ultimate campsite, but I was getting tired.

Last Night Campsite

Last Night Campsite

Thankfully I kept seeking a better site and ended up with a primo campsite just below 4-Mile Bridge next to this 30+ foot waterfall, Skoonichuk Falls. But it made for a perfect last night on the trail where I was spared the heartbreak of knowing what was happening at the time with my dog, Abby.

Bridge of The Gods

Bridge of The Gods

The final day took me past High Bridge and Punchbowl Falls, plus greeting about a hundred, mostly day hikers, many with the goal to make it the 6 miles to Tunnel Falls. After receiving the news about Abby I hiked the Columbia River Highway State Trail up to Cascade Locks which provides a very nice view of Bridge of The Gods over to Washington. My wife and daughter were at the PCT Trailhead park by the bridge waiting for me. It was a gorgeous day for a burger and beer as we mourned the loss of our family dog.

Backpacking Lessons Learned

My first segment on the PCT taught me a lot, but the most important was that you cannot beat the heat. My goal was Willamette Pass to McKenzie Pass, about 80 miles in 9 days. I aborted after 6 days and about 50 miles after 2 days of 90+ degree heat with thunderstorm humidity did me in. The other lesson taken away was to keep your destination schedule open, since you never know what will affect that schedule.

OK, now for a quick update on what I did accomplish. Remember, I am 61 years old, healthy, but not really in great shape and I have been living at low altitude.

First Campsite Overlooking Rosary Lakes

First Campsite Overlooking Rosary Lakes

I started off in the afternoon figuring I just needed to get a few miles under my belt to loosen up. I ended up going 5 miles and climbing 1200 vertical to end up at a fabulous overlook campsite. I felt great and was so pumped to be transitioning into this new wilderness mindset.

Willamette Pass Ski Cabin

Winter Ski Cabin

The second day I enjoyed the comfort of a really nice winter ski cabin to escape the mosquitos and reorganize a bit. I determined that I would camp at the top of the next climb which meant I had to pack more water which I secured at Bobby Lake. I put in 9 miles and more good vertical and the body was responding well. Also to my surprise I had cellular service (maybe from Waldo Lake), although sporadic, but it did allow me to let the world know I was doing OK.

Carlton Lake

Carlton Lake

Mosquito Survival Net

Mosquito Survival Net

The third day felt good, I get up early to take advantage of early morning coolness which allows you to wear longs sleeves to combat the mosquitos, but that is nothing new, just inconvenient.

Trail Maintenance Team

Trail Maintenance Team

I knocked off a number of miles and stopped at Carlton Lake to filter water and cleanup a bit. The mosquitos were getting worse and the breeze off the lake was a a welcome relief.

I was feeling good so a set a goal of another 9 mile day to get to Taylor Lake. Along the way I thanked a trail maintenance team for the work they do and travelled through maybe a 10 year old fire area.

Fire Burn Area

Fire Burn Area

Peaceful Taylor Lake

Peaceful Taylor Lake

I got to my campsite early afternoon and took advantage of relaxing by Taylor Lake enjoying the mosquito less breeze. This was the first time I realized I had pushed my body to about max, but I could tell that I was able to refresh it with rest.

Around dinner time I was joined by a couple of PCT through hikers, trail names: Ranger and Bubba Gump, which made for good conversation as I compared my PCT adventure to theirs. They may have been one of the first through hikers to reach this far north, however, they skipped the Sierras to avoid the late winter storm.

PCT Through Hikers

Ranger and Bubba Gump

They did plan to return to do the JMT.

Next day I watched the young buck through hikers leave me in the dust I again felt strong and very satisfied with how my body was responding. However, the temperature was rising and all was about to change. I pushed myself this day for 10 miles and ended up at a campsite totally depleted of energy as the heat was taking a toll on me that I still believed I could plow through. That night we had a thunderstorm which did little to reduce the temperature but it did raise the humidity. The overcast morning made for a warmer and more intense mosquito start to the day. After my initial few miles of enthusiastic trekking my body started rebelling. I was sweating a lot which I think I was replenishing with liquids, but the heat toll was greater then that. I had hoped to put in 12 miles and make it to Elk Lake Resort. However, as my body began to fail, symptoms of heat exhaustion setting in, I made the decision to stop at Dumbbell lake only half way but my only good camp option.

Therma Rest Float

Therma Rest Float

Anyways, wisdom was setting in and I knew I had to back off due to the heat and this lake looked ideal for the swimming potential. So I made camp before noon and focused the afternoon on body recovery. Floating around the lake on my Therma Rest Pad provided a wonderful way to cool down and great relaxation. However, I was now challenged to make my designated destination pickup at Lava Lake Trailhead. Unfortunately, it was still hot and more storm clouds added to the humidity.

The only remaining option which would allow me to complete the planned segment would be to put in 10 miles and summit Koosah Mountain with a difficult 1200 vertical or bailout with a 6 mile mostly downhill trail to Elk Lake Resort.

End of my Trail

End of my Trail

Well about 4 miles into the effort it was obvious that heat exhaustion was not going to allow me to accomplish the needed goal so Elk Lake it was.

Actually aborting in this way made for a fairly interesting adventure in figuring out how to get home. I hitchhiked from Elk Lake, something I have not done for 40 years. The couple that gave me a ride dropped me off at the Cascade Lake Brewery in Bend, OR. I was able to connect with an old GEOAID colleague who gave me a bed for the night. Then I took a bus shuttle to Gresham, OR, where I caught the MAX light rail train to Hillsboro. All in all, it was a wonderful first phase of the adventure. Backpacking is tough, but the rewards of experiencing God’s earthly beauty justify the effort. I’m ready to hit the trail again in a week after this heat wave subsides.

Backpacking Tomorrow – Yes

The backpack is loaded and I am ready to go. Tomorrow I will kickoff my first segment at Willamette Pass on highway 58 just East of Eugene, OR, where I will head north on the Pacific Crest Trail for 75 miles to McKenzie Pass. This is actually Halfmile’s Oregon Section E Map, by the way, I’m excited to try out the Halfmile PCT iPhone GPS App. This segment will take me through the 3 Sisters Wilderness area and should be a good warmup. I am giving myself 8 days which should not be difficult even by not being in backpacking shape. This is a great trip with plenty of lakes, moderate vertical changes, some lava fields, lots of beautiful mountains and hopefully plenty of wildflowers with limited mosquitos.

My pack fully loaded including max water is 41 pounds. A little heavy but I know that I can cut out 3 or 4 pounds of water for the first half of the segment. I might need all of the water plus an additional water bag toward the end depending on the availability of stream water. The food weighs about 7 pounds and will only get lighter as it is consumed. Heat is going to be a concern. Temperatures on the trail will reach close to 90 on many of the days. The heat will allow me to use a lightweight sleeping bag and go light on cloths but hiking will need to be done early in the day with siestas for the afternoon.

I believe I have taken care of all the backpacking prep. REI was heavily utilized to provide me with the most efficient backpack and gear possible. Mentally I and totally psyched, I mean I can’t wait to immerse myself into the wilderness. My friends and family are concerned that I am going alone and they have pushed hard for me to consider a satellite phone or beacon. But no, I am not worried about this segment, by PCT backpacking challenge, this will be pretty easy. Sure I may injure myself but I will survive, there will be other hikers who will hear my whistle for help.

South Sister

Should be my campsite on Day 6 – South Sister

The greater challenge that I have transitioned through is mental acceptance that I am actually doing this. Thoughts of shouldn’t I be working or what about other professional opportunities have crept into my head, but I think I have them cleared away. Yes I am going to take a few days in-between the next segment to launch my consulting career with Willamette View, but everything has worked out to make me believe that I am truly supposed to be doing this. I do believe that there is some greater understanding that I will gain from it.

I don’t know what that might be but I can’t wait to reevaluate life after coming out of the wilderness in a few months. I know that what ever I will do, I will do it better for having this experience. I love that confidence that I know God has planted in me.

NW Drought Backpacker Concerns

I am winding down my CIO career in Higher Ed so my thoughts wander more frequently to my next career of backpacking. It does appear that it will be a co-career with continued involvement with leading technological change in various industries, but backpacking is the immediate driver.

This brings me to the subject of this post which is the drought in the West. NWSnowpack0415smThe headlines have been informing us for a few years now how serious this drought is especially in California. But those headlines focus on identifiable concerns such as the supply of drinking water or irrigation of our nation’s richest agricultural region. This last year has been extremely significant for the drought due to the lack of snow pack in the Sierra or Cascade mountain ranges. Now this starts to get my attention because backpackers need water and water is heavy to carry.

I only plan on backpacking in Oregon and Washington this year which normally would not present a water concern, however, snowpack in the Cascades is at amazingly low. Washington’s governor just declared a drought emergency referencing snowpack at 16% of normal. From what I see the snowpack is better in northern Washington but the rest of the Northwest is in trouble. Not for drinking water but for some agricultural and higher threat for forest fires, but most important backpacking. My real concern is for Oregon which does not have as many lakes in the mountains as are in Washington. I hope to backpack through Crater lake in early July which normally would be a great challenge since it is rare to be able to get into Crater lake before July. Today there is no snow there, Crater Lake Webcam. The good news for that segment is that I can refill water in crater lake, but the challenge will be how much water I will need to carry to get to the next lake.

I want to do the PCT from Willamette pass to Mt. Jefferson which would take me through the Sisters. There are a few lakes but typically you count on snow melt streams. In fact I have backpacked in the east side of the Sisters knowing that the streams would only be running in late afternoon when the temperatures heated up. But many of those streams will be dry so I will be very grateful to trip reports from other hikers to help plan the water resupply strategy. I rely heavily on the many member reports on http://www.oregonhikers.org along with data from http://www.pcta.org and with high hopes for how Halfmile’s iPhone app will help guide me.

Washington will be better thanks to more lakes but it could mean missing exceptional flowers and it will cause different concerns about wildlife. My highlight segment for this year will be Spider Gap- Buck Creek Pass Loop in NC Washington. Good news is that the snow pack is much closer to normal in the north so our first week of August trip should be awesome.

Into the Wild

I have resigned as CIO of Missouri University of Science & Technology with an exit date planned for the end of May. I will be Returning to Oregon thanks to my wife’s new employment there. For the last few months I dabbled with other CIO opportunities but I’m not sure my heart was totally into it. I kept telling myself I would still consider trying to change higher education but I am really thankful that higher education is not quite ready for change. You see, I have the option to take some time off and make some dreams come true. For the second half of this year I hope to spend significant time backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington.

I will use this blog to expand more upon my career transition and the new adventures awaiting me in the wilderness. I may very well return to Higher Education someday but for now it will be Higher Elevation.

Into the Wild

1971 National Geographic Article on the PCT

National Geographic

National Geographic June 1971

My wife was visiting friends of ours in Oregon, mentioning to them that I was interested in backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail, PCT. They quickly went down to their basement to return with the June 1971 edition of National Geographic that has a story on the Pacific Crest Trail. This is fascinating for many reason, the opportunity to read about their impression of the PCT in 1971 and the side benefit of being reminded by the magazines ads as to what was popular then. I loved Bell Telephones ad about providing emergency phones on a desolate stretch of Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. However, the real treat was the article.

In 1971 the PCT was only about two-thirds complete as it had only been fully commissioned in 1968 (Public Law 90-543) in the establishment of a “National Trail System”. On October 16, 1970, Eric Ryback, an 18-year-old student, completed the first PCT thru-hike which probably stimulated the article. The writers definitely spent some time on the PCT and did realize the awesome gift that was being created for the outdoor enthusiasts.

The article itself allocated a lot of focus on the environmental pressures of the time such as the threat from smog in the LA basin or the over use of the PCT due to improved accessibility. So from a comparison 44 years later it is encouraging to know that the high ozone levels in the San Bernardino mountains did not kill all the trees and that wilderness use management has done a good job protecting the natural beauty of the PCT. Forest fires were of great concern back then as well. Significant credit was given to John Muir for educating our country about the value of this wilderness. And various mountaineers were recognized for helping to chart this trail. This was a treasure of a gift from the Chegwyn’s of McMinnville, OR.